Last week, Hunter Dickinson, arguably the best player on the Michigan basketball team, posted a message on social media. The message was simple:
I’m leaving for greener pastures.
Oh, he didn’t put it that way. Dickinson called his transfer to another school “the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.” He said he’d grown and learned a lot in his three years in Ann Arbor, but “that being said, it’s time for me to move on.”
Without ever stating why he “had to“ make the decision, or why he was “moving on” (not to the NBA, remember, but to another university), he then rattled through the typical thank yous, to coaches, teammates and fans.
In his final paragraph, he said, “I will always think of myself as a Michigan man.”
Bo Schembechler must be rolling over.
Look. You can think of yourself as anything you want. But a photo accompanying his message showed Dickinson from behind, pointing, as if hailing a cab out of town. And that’s pretty much what he did. After three seasons developing into a star at Michigan, he just transferred to Kansas, a school where he will have a better chance at a national championship, and will likely make more money off his image and likeness, the new currency of college sports.
I’m pretty sure the folks paying him will prefer he call himself “a Kansas man.”
Don’t misunderstand. Dickinson has every right to do what he did. It’s within the new rules.
But when kids start telling you how much they love their school, while simultaneously leaving it for a bigger, better deal, we’ve reached a new rung of hypocrisy on the ever down-pointing ladder of college sports.
It’s not personal. It’s business.
Dickinson is hardly alone. Thousands of college athletes are jumping schools every year now, including a guy named Caleb Love, who spent three years as a star for North Carolina basketball, and is now coming to Michigan, the school Dickinson just bolted. Talk about a carousel!
More on Love in a moment.
But ever since the NCAA, frightened that lawsuits would put it out of existence, hurriedly agreed to a name, image and likeness rule and also let players transfer and begin playing immediately, college athletes have been looking at their institutions in a whole new way.
No longer is it about the best academics, the best coach, the best program. Now it’s also “Where can I cash in?” With the sudden ability to do commercials, ads or billboards, and earn big money for relatively little effort, athletes are choosing to go where the fever is the hottest, where the boosters have the biggest connections, and where the school can best market their image.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who just got selected No. 1 in the NFL draft, didn’t have to jump up and down and scream “Finally, I can get paid!” He was making more than a million dollars while on campus.
There are female college gymnasts now making millions as well. College football players can easily rake in six figures. Even lesser-known names in smaller sports can earn tens of thousands of dollars, more than enough to match the scholarships they are also getting.
When this newfound money stream was combined with a transfer portal, the inevitable competition for jumpers began. Wooing went way up. Now, whether they admit to it or not, players know well in advance of transferring who’s going to pony up the biggest bucks. It’s like one of those charity auctions where you bid for a date with a celebrity.
Except there’s nothing charitable about it. This is straight-up business.
So let’s lose the sentimental farewells.
Anything but amateur hour
When Love, the UNC star, announced he was transferring to Michigan, a group of Tar Heels supporters actually raised money on the internet to buy a full-page ad in the college newspaper, so they could run a splashy appreciation goodbye — to a guy who was choosing to play someplace else!
I don’t know what those folks were thinking. But you hear athletes talk all the time about the team, how only players understand one another, and how they’ll do anything for their brothers or sisters in uniform.
Except maybe stay and keep playing with them.
Love, who apparently fell from favor with the UNC staff, issued his own glowing farewell, saying, “I will always cherish the bonds we created over the years and the memories that will last a lifetime.”
Or at least until he pulls a new uniform over his head.
Look. I understand that in the professional ranks, athletes leave via trade or free agency and sometimes post emotional goodbye statements.
But they leave for business decisions, theirs or the team’s. If college is now indistinguishable from that, then why call it “college sports” at all? What part does school even play in this? It’s just minor league professional. Classes, teachers, orientations, all that pretense should all be swept aside.
Until they do that, then consider me one who finds farewell letters from college transfers a bit much. The phrase “Michigan man” was made famous when Schembechler angrily insisted that Bill Frieder, who had just accepted a job with Arizona State, would not still get to coach the Wolverines in the NCAA tournament.
“A Michigan man will coach Michigan!” Bo declared. In other words, you don’t get to keep the moniker when you bolt. It’s the price you pay. In the newly monied world of college sports, that concept should be pretty understandable.